This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 21, 1998

October 21, 1998 - Buying a Car

Most of the time I drive an utterly distinctive 1978 Datsun. It satisfies all my requirements for a car: it starts (except the time I filled the tank with Diesel fuel), it moves, and it stops.

But recently, our family car, a 1990 Plymouth Acclaim, had one trouble too many. In 8 years it had required us to replace the head gasket not once, but twice. Finally, we put a rebuilt engine in it. Then the electrical panel failed. Then the heater and air conditioning unit failed. Then we had to spring for a couple of expensive brake jobs.

On the day the transmission failed, we said, "That's it!" We gave it to the Big Brothers, providing that they came and hauled it away. I hope they won't hate us for it.

But then we needed a new family car, and I find that my standards for my loved ones call for something better than a 20 year old Datsun.

My wife is very active, trekking kids not only around the county, but all up and down the Front Range, with the occasional cross-county trek. We needed something safe, comfortable for long trips, with enough power to move up and down hills at highway speeds.

For some men, I realize this would be a masculinity crisis. Yes, I'm talking "minivan." Of course, I was thinking V-6.

But I'll be honest. The power of the engine wasn't as big a deal to me as something else: reliability. I am not mechanically inclined, I will never be mechanically inclined, and I deeply resent having to parade my ignorance in front of those who ARE mechanically inclined. I wanted a car that was as close to maintenance free as possible.

So I turned to the library to do something I've mentioned in this column many times: consumer research.

I started by looking on the library web site, where I connected to "SearchBank" -- a database of some 600 of the most popular general interest magazines. I typed in phrases like "best car for family." Then I narrowed the matches to full-text articles, so I could read the reviews right on the screen. I learned about everything from handling to consumer satisfaction surveys.
The library reference section also has a number of car buying guides. I pawed through those.

I also spent some time at several free web sites. The two I found most useful were Edmunds (www.edmunds.com) and the Kelly Blue Book (www.kbb.com). These sites not only rated the various cars according to many factors (what's new in that model year, warranties, insurance costs, etc.), but also provided dealer invoices. That meant I could find out just exactly what a local dealer had paid for a car, with any options I wanted.

Along the way, I discovered something else. If you belong to triple-A (the American Automobile Association), you have already paid for a "buyer." These buyers take care of all the dirty work, and depending upon the car, they can save you a lot of money, or just a respectable amount of money.

At any rate, thanks to library resources, I think we picked just the right vehicle for us: a 1998 Toyota Sienna minivan.

I sure hope so. It's got to last us 20 years.

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